The BP testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on May 25 says it all, but perhaps that material needs to be explained. From looking at that evidence, this is what we know:
1) When cementing the production casing the cementing crew, which was being supervised by BP, had difficulty landing the top plug into the casing shoe. This was the first "red flag" because a satisfactory cement job to the production string is fundamental to the safe operation on a go forward basis. The fact that the cement job did not go as planned should have caused the testing operation that followed to be carefully scrutinized, it clearly was not.
2) As is normal practice, the integrity of the pressure tight seal was tested by pressuring up on the casing and observing the pressure response. If pressure bleeds off there is clearly a problem with the pressure integrity of the shoe, However, industry practice dictates that a positive test, that is no pressure drop, is not diagnostic, simply because the reservoir pressure is sufficient to retain the pressure being applied. A negative test is useful because it is diagnostic of a failed cement job. In this case the test was positive.
3) Again, as is normal industry practice a negative pressure test was run, with pressure released from inside the casing and the pressure response was measured. In this case evidence has been bought before the committee that there was a 1,400 psi pressure response. This response is highly diagnostic and is therefore the second "red flag" and at this point the BP supervisors should have concluded that they had what the industry calls a "wet shoe." That is that the cement job had failed to form a seal at the casing around the reservoir which we know contains high pressure oil and gas.
4) At this point a decision should have been made to do a remedial cement job; this is an expensive operation, but having seen a 1,400 psi response, there was no choice.
5) The BP engineers then proceeded with the balance of the operation to temporarily abandon the well. This meant replacing the 14-pound-per-gallon mud that was in the wellbore with 8.5-pound-per-gallon sea water. The denser mud had been, up until this time, the primary pressure control and was keeping the hydrocarbons in place despite the lack of an adequate cement job at the casing shoe.
Given the two red flags that had been thrown up previously, one would have expected that as a precaution a cement plug would have been placed somewhere in the wellbore as a secondary pressure seal before this primary pressure control system (heavy mud) was evacuated from the wellbore. But at the very least the mud replacement operation should have been heavily scrutinized. Clearly it was not.
6) Evidence provided at the hearing, including the pressure data transmitted from the rig for the last two hours before the explosion, is diagnostic. At 8:20 p.m. on the day of the explosion the pressure data suggest there was a constant flow of sea water being pumped into the drill pipe that was displacing the heavier mud system which was the primary pressure control for the well. The rate going in was 900 gallons per minute, but the flow data of mud coming out was steadily increasing from 900 gallons a minute at 8:20 p.m. to a rate of 1,200 gallons per minute at 8:34 p.m. During this 14-minute period one can conclude that hydrocarbons were flowing and pushing more fluid from the wellbore than was being pumped in.
This letter which was written by the president of Samson Oil and Gas clearly illustrates that it really was sheer negligence by BP that caused the explosion which sank the rig. Every industry standard of safety and protocol was ignored. The question I ask is, how would more regulation have stopped such negligence?